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AMHERST, Mass. – Evolutionary ecologist Sonya Auer of the University of Massachusetts Amherst has won the Elton Prize, one of only five British Ecological Society (BES) young investigator awards given each year to recognize the best research papers published in the society’s journals by early-career scientists.
Auer won for the best paper of 2012 in the Journal of Animal Ecology for her research and writing on the effects of variation in food availability across life stages on growth rates in wild Trinidadian guppies. Her research interests include how organisms respond to environmental variation through changes in their physiology, behavior and life history strategies.
She says, “I am thrilled to have won this award. The British Ecological Society is a world renowned international scientific society, so their recognition of my research on the complexities of animal life histories is very exciting.”
Auer’s paper is titled, “Life histories have a history: Effects of past and present conditions on adult somatic growth rates in wild Trinidadian guppies,” based on research she completed as part of her dissertation work at the University of California, Riverside. Her co-authors are Andrés Lopez-Sepulcre, Thomas Heatherly II, Tyler Kohler, Ronald Bassar, Steven Thomas and David Reznick.
As part of her award, Auer will receive £250 (about $375), a year’s BES membership plus a year’s subscription to the journal. She has also been invited to present her research at the society’s 100-year anniversary international ecology meeting, INTECOL, in London in August.
Journal editors who judged the prize said of Auer’s work, “The editors and reviewers liked the elegant study system used, the detailed analyses and the surprising and fascinating results that emerged from the investigation. The authors were able to show that while events occurring during early and later parts of an individual’s development both had important consequences for adult growth strategies, the direction of their influence differed.”
“The take-home message is that a simultaneous consideration of events in both the recent and distant past may improve predictions for individual- and population-level responses to environmental change. These are important considerations given the new challenges faced by species as ecosystems undergo rapid human-induced changes worldwide.”
Now at UMass Amherst as a postdoctoral researcher with David King in the department of environmental conservation, Auer is focusing her research on breeding bird responses to climate change, in particular how North American songbirds are coping with climate change through changing nesting behavior, nest site choices and breeding habitats.

For more: British Ecological Society